A month and a half after a Russian spacecraft exploded on takeoff in Kazakhstan, the two sides are still bickering over the cleanup.
Kazakhstan’s Tengrinews news agency reported on August 15 that Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Kapparov had expressed his “dissatisfaction” with the Russian space agency’s efforts to clean up after a Russian Proton-M rocket carrying up to 600 tons of toxic fuel exploded at the Baikonur launch site 17 seconds after takeoff on July 2.
Russia says it needs more time to clean up the poisonous mess.
“Roskosmos’s representative has asked for [an extra] 15 days for the detoxication of the area,” Tengrinews reported, quoting a statement from the Kazakh Environmental Protection Ministry.
The statement added that the Kazakh government is doing its utmost to “identify negative consequences of rockets on the environment and health of residents of Baikonur.” Local residents have complained they are being kept in the dark about the potential environmental and health impacts of the crash.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported on August 15 that the Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass satellites had contained 500 to 600 tons of heptyl, a highly toxic substance used as fuel to power Russian rockets.
A former lawyer for one of the two students from Kazakhstan implicated in the Boston Marathon bombing has published an impassioned plea for leniency, arguing that the prospect of 25 years in prison for the two teens for exercising “world-class bad judgment under the worst of possible scenarios” would be too harsh a punishment.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both from Kazakhstan, allegedly took and dumped a backpack with emptied fireworks from Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s dorm room after seeing their friend named as a suspect on TV several days after the bombings. On August 13, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev entered a plea of “not guilty” on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice in Boston’s Federal District Court.
In a commentary for Slate, Harlan Protass, Tazhayakov’s former lawyer, argues that locking up two 19-year-olds till they’ve reached their 30’s or 40’s is not the best way to prevent future tampering with evidence by others. That may be a bit inside baseball if you don’t live in the United States, since it plays into broader American debates about sentencing and prison reform, as well as the power of federal prosecutors.
Two students from Kazakhstan have been charged with obstructing the investigation into the Boston marathon bombing, which left three dead and over 100 injured in April.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19-year-old students from Kazakhstan, were indicted by a federal grand jury on August 8, USA Today reports.
The two students, who were associates of the two brothers suspected of carrying out the fatal April 15 attack, face up to 25 years in jail on charges of obstructing justice and conspiring to obstruct justice (overtaking conspiracy charges brought against them in May). They will be formally charged in a federal court in Boston on August 13, the report quoted a spokeswoman for the US attorney as saying.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are alleged to have disposed of evidence by throwing away the backpack of the surviving suspected bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, after hearing about the terrorist attack in the media and finding their friend’s backpack contained suspicious objects.
Kadyrbayev's attorney, Robert Stahl, expressed disappointment at the charges and said his client had been “shocked and horrified to learn that someone he knew was involved in the terrible Marathon bombing.”
“Even though he was literally stunned and in fear, and even though he is from a country where the police are routinely distrusted, from the moment the authorities approached him he has fully cooperated,” the attorney said in a statement quoted by USA Today.
A football club from Karaganda in central Kazakhstan has made history by becoming the first Kazakh team to enter an elite European competition.
The 5-3 aggregate victory over Albanian champions KF Skënderbeu on August 6 guarantees Shakhter Karagandy, champions of Kazakhstan's Premier League for the past two seasons, a place in the group stages of UEFA’s Europa League. If Shakhter makes it through the playoff round at the end of August, it could even advance to the exclusive Champions League.
Shakhter travelled to Albania with a three-goal lead from the first of two games. Within the first 30 minutes of the second game, the Albanians were back on level terms, but Shakhter struck back, winning 3-2, and advancing to the playoff round, which will be drawn on August 9.
Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country to play its soccer in Europe. It joined UEFA – the Union of European Football Associations – in 2002, after competing for 10 years in the Asian Football Confederation, where Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan play their international football.
The elevation of a Kazakh team to Europe's elite will give the country’s regularly disappointed fans a welcome boost. The national team, ranked 150th in the world, has not fared well since joining UEFA. It again failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, the 2014 match in Brazil. It is currently fifth in its qualifying group, having scored only one point in the last six matches.
Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court has denied jailed opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov a review of his controversial trial and imprisonment, a case widely condemned as legally flawed and politically motivated.
Kozlov was jailed in October 2012 for seven and a half years on charges of seeking to overthrow the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and stoking fatal unrest in the town of Zhanaozen in December 2011, which left 15 dead when security forces fired on unarmed protestors.
“The circus is over, the judges have pronounced their decision – there are no grounds for opening a supervisory review,” Kozlov’s wife Aliya Turusbekova wrote on her Facebook page after the Supreme Court ruling on August 5, which effectively put an end to Kozlov’s legal battle. Kozlov has argued that he only engaged in legitimate political opposition and is a scapegoat for the Zhanaozen violence, while Astana rejects claims of political motivation in his case.
Fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been on the run from police in Kazakhstan and Britain, has been captured in the south of France, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Ablyazov was arrested on July 31 by French special forces near the billionaires’ playground of Cannes, the FT quoted an unnamed family lawyer as saying. It did not specify on what charges Ablyazov had been detained: Kazakhstan has been pursuing him for alleged financial crimes that Ablyazov denies, and he also has a case to answer in Britain, where he escaped a jail sentence for contempt of court last year by going underground.
Ablyazov formerly chaired Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, which he also owned through an undeclared holding until it was forcibly nationalized in 2009. Ablyazov fled to London, where he was sued by his former bank for allegedly defrauding it of some $6 billion.
After years of legal wrangling, Ablyazov – who accuses Astana of pursuing him for political reasons and has asylum in the United Kingdom – fled to an unknown destination when the London High Court ordered him jailed for “deliberate and brazen” deception (concealing assets he had been ordered to disclose in the fraud case). Ablyazov was later debarred from fighting the case and the courts ordered his assets sold to compensate BTA Bank.
Kazakhstan’s troubled BTA Bank, formerly run by fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, is still crippled by bad loans more than four years after Astana grabbed the financial institution and sent Ablyazov fleeing abroad, a new study shows.
A staggering 81 percent of BTA Bank’s credit portfolio is made up of non-performing loans (those on which payments are 90 days late or more), according to research by Kazakhstan’s Kursiv business newspaper.
As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pointed out over and over again, bad loans are the plague of Kazakhstan’s financial system: The IMF said in June that non-performing loans make up around 30 percent of the total in Kazakhstan’s financial system.
But BTA Bank has by far the highest total, not only in terms of ratio to its credit portfolio but also in monetary terms: Its non-performing loans total 1.7 trillion tenge (around $11 billion), Kursiv’s study, based on data from June 1, shows.
Alliance Bank had the second-largest ratio of bad loans in its credit portfolio (47 percent), followed by ATF Bank (46 percent). Kazkommertsbank had the second largest in monetary terms: 660 billion tenge ($4.3 billion), or 28 percent of its loan portfolio.
BTA Bank was forcibly nationalized in 2009 and Ablyazov, who chaired it and owned it through an undeclared holding, fled to London. There he was sued by his former bank for allegedly defrauding it of some $6 billion.
Kazakhstan has found a novel way to combine two of its passions du jour, green energy and cycling. Astana is hosting a group of intrepid cyclists who have spent the last seven weeks or so racing from France to Central Asia on vehicles fueled by pedal power, with a little help from the sun.
The race, known as “The Sun Trip,” is the brainchild of Florian Bailly. The pioneer of solar-assisted cycling made his own way from France to Japan in 2010, a 10,000-kilometer trip relying solely on pedal and solar power. For Astana, the Sun Trip is a way of publicizing EXPO 2017, which it promises will focus on renewable energy.
Solar bikes, which use a combination of a pedal-powered machine with a solar-fueled battery, allow riders to travel long distances at greater speeds than on conventional bicycles.
Thirty-three competitors set off from Savoy on June 15 on a variety of machines – including conventional bicycles with trailers transporting the solar gear, along with a tandem or two and a tricycle.
On July 23, Raf van Hulle wheeled into Kazakhstan's capital first, 37 days after leaving Savoy, France. The Belgian’s grueling 7,500-kilometer journey took him through Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
A simmering water dispute between Astana and Bishkek is heating up, with Kyrgyzstan threatening to cut electricity to its neighbor and reportedly accusing Kazakh officials of attempted extortion – then denying it.
The dispute escalated on July 29 when Kyrgyzstan’s energy minister alleged, according to both Kyrgyz and Kazakh media reports, that unnamed Kazakh officials had attempted to bribe him during water and energy negotiations.
“They openly offered a bribe for the sale of energy at a low price to Kazakhstani consumers,” Osmonbek Artykbayev said in remarks quoted by CA-News.org. Kyrgyz negotiators “managed to hold out,” he was reported to have said.
On July 30, Artykbayev denied ever making such an accusation, using the time-honored explanation that reporters had distorted his words. He said he had been explaining how his ministry had stepped up the fight against corruption in the energy sector. “Unfortunately my words about the fight against corruption were incorrectly interpreted in individual media outlets,” Artykbayev said in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
Last month Artykbayev threatened to halt electric power exports to Kazakhstan, citing a water shortage. “It’s a difficult question, but there is not enough water in the Toktogul Reservoir, and we are faced with the question of supplying our own population,” Tengri News quoted him as saying on June 27. Kyrgyzstan generates over 90 percent of its electricity from hydropower.
Kazakhstan's air force is trying to learn from other countries about how to best operate in urban environments, raising the question: when does it anticipate carrying out air operations in a city?
The Ministry of Defense held a conference so that Kazakhstan's military pilots could "analyze use of aviation in military conflicts by foreign countries and work out suggestions on training of pilots for military actions in urban areas."
And "special attention" was paid to drones:
Their use allows to perform stable and constant real time monitoring of urban areas without any risk for the personnel.
Kazakhstan military experts are studying technical capacities and characteristics of the drones produced by the leading countries as they are planning to purchase them for the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan.
It's not clear whether Kazakhstan envisages air surveillance or air attack, but in any case, under what scenario does Kazakhstan imagine using its air force in a city? Kazakhstan is a very long way from having either the will or the capacity to deploy even a modest force outside its borders, much less carry out a complex operation like urban combat with air support. That then leaves ... cities inside Kazakhstan?